Eleanor McCain spares no ex­pense with ‘gift to Canada’

The Hamilton Spectator - - A & E - DAVID FRIEND

Eleanor McCain pulled out all the stops while mak­ing plans to cel­e­brate Canada’s 150th birth­day.

She en­vi­sioned record­ing a cov­ers al­bum that would be some­thing spec­tac­u­lar. So in­stead of choos­ing a sin­gle orchestra to bring a se­lec­tion of clas­sic Cana­dian songs to life, she en­listed 10 of the coun­try’s top sym­phonies.

Then she hired 23 pho­tog­ra­phers to shape a hefty cof­fee-table book chron­i­cling her coast-to-coast record­ing odyssey. There’s also a doc­u­men­tary in the works.

“True North: The Cana­dian Song­book” is a breath­lessly lav­ish project that McCain says is her gift to Canada. The daugh­ter of McCain Foods founder Wal­lace McCain fi­nanced the whole thing her­self.

McCain stands cen­tre stage for 31 cov­ers of Cana­dian favourites — in­clud­ing takes on Gor­don Light­foot’s “If You Could Read My Mind,” kd lang’s “Con­stant Crav­ing,” and “I’ll Al­ways Be There” by Roch Voi­sine — and one new orig­i­nal song.

She also recorded a new ar­range­ment of Bryan Adams’s “Run to You,” sub­sti­tut­ing his gui­tar with a sax­o­phone and heap­ing cym­bals, and em­barked on a ma­jor re­work­ing of Leonard Co­hen’s “Hal­lelu­jah.” It ex­plores oc­taves never tread by the late po­etic song­writer.

“It’s al­ways a risk when you’re tak­ing these iconic songs,” McCain says. “(We wanted to) try to cre­ate some­thing new but still hon­our the orig­i­nal.”

Her glossy 220-page book cap­tures two per­spec­tives. McCain min­gles with her fel­low mu­si­cians in some pho­tos, while oth­ers cap­ture her traips­ing across Canada’s coun­try­sides in fancy evening gowns.

In one image, McCain dons a red se­quined dress to pose in a Saskatchewan wheat field. An­other has her on the shores of Al­go­nquin Park — with a ca­noe pad­dle in hand — adorned in a gown from Hamil­ton-based indige­nous de­signer An­gela DeMon­tigny.

It’s the kind of pageantry only mus­tered by an ex­pan­sive bud­get — and one most Cana­dian artists prob­a­bly couldn’t af­ford.

Those re­al­i­ties aren’t lost on McCain, who ac­knowl­edges her good for­tunes in be­long­ing to one of New Brunswick’s rich­est fam­i­lies. But her lin­eage comes with a down­side too, in­clud­ing the un­savoury nick­name of “French fry heiress” in the me­dia. She ran­kles when it comes up in con­ver­sa­tion.

“It’s an un­for­tu­nate la­bel,” she says. “It doesn’t rep­re­sent who I am .... The val­ues (my fa­ther) in­stilled in me are not the ones that are at­trib­uted maybe to a la­bel like an ‘heiress.’”

When asked how much she spent mak­ing “True North” she fum­bles for a di­rect an­swer.

“A lot. I ac­tu­ally don’t even know,” she says.

“I don’t want to know. No, I do. I just don’t re­ally talk about it that much.”

McCain prefers to fo­cus on call­ing it a “pure labour of love.”

The project comes as the singer charges ahead with con­tentious, head­line-grab­bing an­nul­ment pro­ceed­ings with her es­tranged hus­band Jeff Me­lan­son, who was the CEO of the Toronto Sym­phony Orchestra be­fore step­ping down last year. His for­mer sym­phony is no­tably ab­sent from McCain’s al­bum.

Ac­cord­ing to court doc­u­ments filed by McCain, her “fairy tale” mar­riage abruptly ended af­ter nine months, when Me­lan­son un­ex­pect­edly backed out through an email mes­sage. He dis­putes her ac­count in a re­sponse filed by his lawyers, say­ing their mar­riage ended af­ter a cou­ple’s ther­apy ses­sion.

Stacks of le­gal doc­u­ments have piled up in an On­tario Su­pe­rior Court as they con­tinue spar­ring over money and blame. McCain’s al­bum was dragged into the pro­ceed­ings two months ago when she asked to de­lay the costly le­gal wran­glings to em­bark on a pub­lic­ity blitz for “True North.” Jus­tice Carolyn Horkins re­jected the re­quest.

When speak­ing in per­son, McCain steps care­fully around the sub­ject of her fiz­zled mar­riage, though she makes fleet­ing ref­er­ences to it in her book.

She says singing proved “cathar­tic” and her emo­tional con­nec­tion to some of the songs was height­ened by what she faced in her own life.

“There’s a beau­ti­ful mar­riage be­tween the mu­sic and lyrics,” she says.

“A beau­ti­ful wilt­ing melody.”


Singer Eleanor McCain poses for a photo to pro­mote the re­lease of her project “True North: The Cana­dian Song­book” made up of an al­bum and a hefty cof­fee table book.

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